Volume 27/Number 24; March 31/April 7, 2014
By Jenna Lippin
Orlando—With the overarching goal of selling more product at higher margins, Abbey Carpet & Floor introduced its Abbey Connect initiative to members at its annual convention, held here March 19-23. The four pillars within Abbey Connect—Merchandising Connect, Advertising
Connect, Member Connect and Customer Connect—have all been designed to help members seamlessly boost their businesses.
Boasting its largest convention attendance since 2006, president and COO Steve Silverman told the group that Abbey is coming off its best year since the beginning of the recession. “While floor covering retailers experienced 5% to 7% growth last year, Abbey as a group [exhibited] twice that growth. 2014 will be another good year, and when you leave Orlando you will be as enthusiastic about [Abbey Connect] as I am.”
While the four “Connects” are expected to provide a significant leap in members’ margins, the primary focus at this convention was on Customer Connect, the group’s online initiative.With Abbey Web Services, participating dealers will benefit from five key ideas: customization of the individual store’s Abbey website homepage; telling the store’s story on its About Us page; promoting sales and special product offers; updating business listings on Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc., and acquiring and displaying positive customer reviews.
Google representative Sheldon Bernstein participated in a panel discussion to explain how Google AdWords — an integral part of Customer Connect – can deliver more customers into member stores. AdWords is a pay-per-click (PPC) service designed to help local businesses advertise on the Internet. Each dealer can target specific geographic areas and ZIP codes where he wants to advertise, and when consumers search Google for flooring in that region, that dealer’s text ad will appear on the results page. When that ad/link is clicked, the user is directed to a promotional advertisement on that retailer’s Abbey website.
Abbey experts will help dealers plan their PPC strategy—what they seek to accomplish and their monthly budgets. The group will also help determine which categories to advertise. “Each category has specific keywords that need to be selected,” said Fred Kotynski, director, information systems. Abbey will manage the hundreds, or thousands, of keywords. Each keyword must be bid on to achieve the best performance for the lowest cost. “We may not be able to be at the top or the right-hand side, but you will receive benefit.”
To participate in Customer Connect, retailers must have an Abbey website with custom content. “We have four stations [on the show floor] to sign up, and every station has a wait,” Silverman pointed out. “Coming into convention we expected 20% to sign up; after convention we will have [an estimated] 40%.”
The two original Abbey members, Chuck McMechen of Abbey Carpet of San Francisco, and John Kopas, owner of Abbey Carpet of Mound View, Minn., both expressed their enthusiasm to FCNews regarding Customer Connect.
“With a national program with Google, Abbey goes so far beyond what we’ve been doing in the past with pay-per-click,” McMechen said. “At the stores where it’s been tested, businesses went up 60% in 60 days. We will be implementing the program as soon as possible. People are lined up to join; you have to be a fool not to do that. The prices are right, and you can know immediately when people click and look at your ad.”
An Abbey convention attendee for 40 years, Kopas believes the pay-per-click program “will probably make us as much profit as anything I’veever seen. We advertise in the St. Paul Dispatch and reach about 100,000 people, but only 10 want carpet. With pay-perclick, it’s one on one. They all want carpet.”
This was welcome news for the longtime Abbey retailers, who both struggled with the economic downturn. “Even the high-end customers suffered,” McMechen noted. “We give them quotes and a year later they buy. That never happened before. But 2013 was the best year we had since 2006. Sales were probably up about 20% last year and already up 20% year to date this year.”
Kopas also cited improved business, not just for him but the group as a whole as evidenced by the attendance. “I’m excited that the room was full yesterday [during the featured workshops]. In some areas of the country [business] was a disaster, but people are excited about business again. They are advertising again, buying displays again, and people are making money again.”
More Connections Designed for use with Customer Connect, Advertising Connect consists of national advertising to assist with lead generation and direct consumers to buyabbey.com. An in-house ad agency allows members to have advertisements customized for them (paid by Abbey suppliers and the group itself), including mailers, flyers, catalogs and other promotional items. Advertising Connect supports the Top 5 ways to build business in 2014, according to Abbey: using sale events to create a sense of urgency; utilizing PPC AdWords to reach the consumer who is looking online for a flooring retailer; sending direct mail to past customers to get repeat business and referrals (including a call-to-action sale event message to attract new business); personalizing a dealer’s Abbey website with specific content, testimonials and promotional messages, and communicating a story that includes a store’s background and strengths with brochures.
The third piece of the puzzle, Member Connect, is a program that assigns a member services representative to each dealer. Information about current events, program guidance, special promotions and help with general questions and issues will be offered. “Proactive communication will be very beneficial in not only assistance but a better awareness of opportunities,” said David Hardy, executive vice president of merchandising and member services.
The last piece of the puzzle is Merchandising Connect, which helps guide Abbey members to products and programs where they can maximize margin. The initiative helps increase close ratios, boosts bottom line opportunities and creates higher ticket sales.
“The cornerstone of our merchandising platform is built around our proprietary brands,” Silverman explained. “That helps prevent showrooming, Internet shopping and store-to-store comparison shopping. No one else has the Abbey brand. If no one else has it, you can charge what you want. And if you have your floor priced at higher margins, you can have more meaningful sales.”
In illustration, at this convention Abbey took the wraps off a host of additions to its proprietary programs. When asked which he was most excited about, Silverman particularly cited some Infinity introductions within the American Showcase brand from Shaw. “The biggest single program we have is Infinity, which is our private-branded yarn from Shaw that we introduced in 2012. This year’s additions include a new bank of colors and variation of weights.”
He also noted that both Mohawk and Shaw have come out with new soft polyester products that will make favorable impacts in both the American Showcase and Alexander Smith brands, also citing new hard surface products from Daltile, USFloors, Karndean and Mohawk. “I think there are a number of ways our members can go when it comes to hard surface.”
Shaw Industries president Randy Merritt was the event’s keynote speaker.
Other product highlights include:
•Brumlow Carpet, a new Abbey supplier specializing in printed carpet and printed carpet tile for both the residential and commercial markets, introduced exclusive patterns and colors available only to the group.
•A new program from Daltile allows consumers to take home large porcelain samples so they can see how it looks in their own homes.
•Enhancements to the Abbey Carpet Soft Foundations, supplied by Lexmark and Godfrey Hirst, which Hardy said has witnessed “meteoric growth with members.”
•The Nourison Luxury Wool Collection, with 12 uniquely styled products including tip shears, courderoys and trellis patterns.
•The Performance collection from Royalty, consisting of 27 new type 6,6 nylon products that offer Scotchgard stain and soil protection.
•A bevy of new, higher-end nylon products from Tuftex.
Another essential element of the Abbey program is Credit Connect, an additional initiative launched at the conference. Through a partnership with Alliance Data Retail Services, members will realize 100% funding at point of purchase at favorable rates for 12 and 24 months. In addition, Abbey has secured extremely favorable American Express rates, which Silverman termed “the lowest that we know of in the industry.” “Many [retailers] don’t use [American Express] or don’t take it because it’s more expensive than regular credit cards,” said Abbey chairman and CEO Philip Gutierrez. “About 55% of credit card users are using AmEx. If you do 30% or 40% of sales with AmEx, think of how much you save [with the Abbey savings program].”
All four “Connects”—actually five when you consider the credit component which was finalized only days before the convention— will benefit members. “What we put together for this convention, it all makes sense; it’s easy to understand,” Silverman said. “All four Connects are simple and they are not just for 2014—they are for the future. They are well received by the members as they guide dealers to where they need help, and because of that, allows their businesses to be more successful.